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In building this year’s Offseason Plan Project, I erred in nudging people toward making AJ Pollock exercise his option.
On the bright side, it looks like my payroll projection of $190 million — or what the White Sox spent last year, because calculations vary — is roughly on target.
Rick Hahn spoke to reporters at the general manager meetings in Las Vegas on Tuesday, where he issued an updated forecast after the Sox bought out Pollock and Josh Harrison to clean up the week’s loose ends.
The team’s estimated 2022 payroll was $196 million, according to Fangraphs.com. As for 2023, Hahn said, “The candid answer is we’re not sure yet.”
“We’re still going through a budgeting process internally,” he said. “My general expectations are that it will be somewhere in the vicinity of where it was in 2022. But I don’t have a firm number in hand just yet.”
It doesn’t make sense to go lower than what they spent this past season, even if the White Sox missed out on expected postseason revenue in 2022, because any reduction would kneecap their efforts to get over this hump. But Jerry Reinsdorf has a history of reducing spending a year after expanding it when the results fall short — and the results often do — so I didn’t want to count on him rubber-stamping another major increase, even if now is the time to flex whatever financial muscle they have.
The hope is that Reinsdorf isn’t married to capping the spending short of $200 million if an opportunity presents itself, because there’s significant financial relief after 2024. Luis Robert has the only guaranteed contract on the 2025 books at $15 million. Dylan Cease will be in his final year arbitration. Yoán Moncada, Eloy Jiménez and Aaron Bummer will have team options. Any other salaries are negligible unless Michael Kopech or Andrew Vaughn become dudes, so any inefficient contract to Brandon Nimmo or whoever could be dealt with one way or another.
As for the ways Hahn might allocate that payroll space, second base remains open after the White Sox declined Harrison’s option, and right field hasn’t been solved since the Obama administration.
For the first time since Adam Eaton’s first stint with the White Sox, they finally have a credible internal solution, at least for most of the season. Oscar Colás could’ve been a candidate to start in Chicago over the last two months of the 2022 regular season, but while Hahn wasn’t interested in bringing a new passenger aboard a listing ship, he’s taken the safety off the 2023 possibilities.
“I don’t think [Opening Day is] necessarily too much of an ask,” Hahn said at baseball’s general managers meetings Tuesday. […]
“We’ll head to camp and see where we’re at,” Hahn said of the Cuban born Colas, 24. “Obviously, there will be offseason check-ins as well and see where the progress is at. But he impressed us last year and is on a real good trajectory to contribute in a meaningful way as soon as next year.”
But while that could be considered the only outfield vacancy, Hahn acknowledged Eloy Jiménez’s success at a designated hitter, which marks a shift away from the mindset that Jiménez needs to own left field. With Pollock departing and Hahn conceding that Vaughn should be a first baseman, the White Sox have playing time for at least one defensively capable corner outfield regardless of Colás’ timetable.
(Hahn also said that Pollock’s choice didn’t surprise him because the outfield class is lefty-heavy, so Pollock’s skill set might be in demand even if he’s on the lesser side of a platoon from here on out.)
Now, regarding Vaughn, Hahn was a bit cagey when it comes to his deployment:
“Vaughn is a first baseman. That’s how he was drafted,” said Hahn of the 24-year-old who was selected third overall in the 2019 Draft. “Does it mean he’s going to be our first baseman next year? Not necessarily.
“He wasn’t either of the past two seasons. But in the end, his best defensive position is first base and perhaps ultimately when the time comes and he settles into that position, you are asking a lot less of him and perhaps that even increases his offensive production as a result.”
Hahn sometimes slips into the passive voice when it comes to the roster, as though its shortcomings are unfortune developments that came out of nowhere, rather than byproducts — or often straight-up products — of choices made and risks taken.
When he says Vaughn isn’t necessarily going to be the first baseman for the 2023 White Sox, it opens the door to trade possibilities, which strikes me as reasonable. When he continues by saying that Vaughn wasn’t a first baseman the last two seasons, he invites speculation that he failed to learn the lesson. I’d like to tilt toward the former, but the inability to thoroughly address the same position year after year after year after year after year sows doubt where there shouldn’t be any.
Touching on the other areas of need, Hahn left second base an open question after buying out Harrison’s club option. He said a favorite could emerge from the internal candidates, but he left open the possibility of blocking them with an external solution:
“We obviously have the internal options right now: Romy and Leury, Mendick, Sosa,” Hahn said.
“But it is an area we feel we’ll spend some time this offseason seeing if there’s a way to get better.”
Hahn also said the White Sox could use a starting pitcher, but beyond the typical mindset that there’s no such thing as too much pitching, Hahn pointed to the 2023 schedule, which will be the first to ever have all of the other 29 teams on it.
“With the changes in the schedule next year you might need a couple of them,” Hahn said of spot starters with remaining minor-league options. “And by that I mean there’s fewer repeaters in your division, so when the Philadelphia Phillies come to town and we get a rainout, we’re going to have to make up that game the next day or two days later. Having multiple guys you can pull from the minors to possibly make that start is going to be important to clubs, not just us.”